Is Your Quest for Self-Awareness Harming You?
By Mark Travers, Ph.D.
Many people turn to therapy when they begin to realize that too much information might not be such a good thing, especially when it comes to the self. They say:
- “I don’t remember the last time I felt issue-free. Am I crazy to care about my mental health and personality?”
- “I ruminate on the littlest changes in thought or feeling that might occur in my mind. Why have these things begun to bother me?”
- “I constantly worry about all the problems that could befall me or all the hurt I could cause because of who I am. Is this even normal?”
Our culture and media emphasize being self-aware quite strongly – some would argue, to a fault. Self-awareness certainly has its benefits: emotional regulation, healthy boundary-setting, and mental fitness, to name a few. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to any problem we might be facing.
In fact, too much self-awareness might spawn its own issues like paranoia, overthinking, and self-absorption. If you suspect being too self-aware of yourself, check for these two signs that might help you confirm your hunch.
1. Perfectionism and over-correction
Self-awareness is usually looked at and used as a tool for self-growth and self-improvement. It can help one get in touch with their inner life and add nuance to the way one views oneself.
However, when self-awareness is taken to an extreme, it can fuel perfectionist tendencies by heightening an individual’s self-criticism and self-evaluation.
Perfectionists who are highly self-aware may constantly scrutinize their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, looking for any signs of imperfection or weakness. This can lead to a cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism that can be difficult to break.
Perfection, especially when it is directed towards the self, can lead to depression, as suggested by a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Your life and your health don’t need to resemble a perfect report card and the instinct to make it so might point to a whole other set of difficulties.
A clear sign that you might need to dial down your self-awareness journey is not being able to let things go or let them be. If you cannot objectively examine aspects of yourself without wanting to correct or fix them, maybe you are better off not knowing about them. If the urge to examine and re-examine yourself does not go away, you might need a mental health practitioner to intervene and stop the perfectionism from snowballing.
2. The self over others
Self-awareness, in an ideal scenario, is supposed to give you perspective on how you treat yourself as well as how you treat the ones around you. However, a common mistake people make is to become completely preoccupied with their own narrative without paying much regard to others.
Take, for instance, the act of mindfulness meditation. It’s a powerful tool that, among other things, helps build self-awareness. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that mindfulness meditation, with all its benefits and positive affect, can also misfire when it comes to maintaining and repairing your relationships.
The research suggests that it reduces feelings of guilt, which might be great for someone on a personal level, but creates barriers when making reparations towards people around them. When one is focused on making themselves feel better or analyzing their own reaction to a situation, they might completely forget about how they are making other people feel.
Extrapolating from this point, one can imagine the damage this brand of self-awareness might do in the hands of a perfectionist or a narcissist. If your self-awareness is helping you but harming others, it might be time for an overhaul.
Self-awareness is one of the many arrows in your mental health quiver. To treat it as a panacea for all issues and situations might lead to disappointing results. Listening to the people who love you and want the best for you might be a better solution for when your own sense of self-awareness leads you astray.